Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

October 2011

October is the time in which the weather breaks, usually mid-month, with the change of season evident in the piles of cloud that start to build in the middle of the day.  They start, brought by the wind called themeltemi, in the east: sometimes they are benign heaps of cotton-wool fluff, casting a few shadows on the mountains, but at other times they are a deep and threatening black. Then we have violent storms. And it is in this month that the swallows gather for the migration.

The olives are plumping, the gnarled trees standing above ploughed red earth, and a few stray carob pods lie on the paths after the peasants have gathered heaps for their donkeys.

Figs are spread on racks to dry, and the pomegranates dangle. Sometimes I wonder how the trees can bear the weight of those red- pink globes still shaded by yellow: at this stage there is a kind of exhausted ripeness in the Peloponnesian autumn. Smoke drifts illegally as garden detritus is burned, and chainsaws buzz in every village as wood is gathered for the winter.

Sunlight continues to be very strong even in October. Great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis maintained that the light is the true protagonist-hero of Greece, and he tended to personify it in his novels, so that he has it leaping down from the sky rather than merely shining. But he also sees the sun as a destructive force: during one journey to Corinth he felt a ‘frightening sun-drenched emptiness,’ as if the light had devoured Greece at last.  Every mid-day, ‘shadows curl up around the tree roots.’ Everything is exposed; there can be no secrets in this harshness.

That’s the theory, anyway, but in fact such is the fear of gossip that the peasant world is one crammed with secrets. Not to mention intrigue. There is much concern about family honour and reputation: What will people think? is a commonly asked question.

After the mid-month storms, fine weather returns for a run of about ten days known as the Little Summer of Saint Dimitrios; chrysanthemums, which bloom in tawny splendour at this time, are known as the flowers of Saint Dimitrios. The Saint’s feast day falls on the 26th. Unlike some saints, Dimitrios is a documented historical figure, a 4th century warrior saint and martyr, of which breed Orthodoxy boasts many. He was thought to be in the Roman Army, and many times defended Thessaloniki, his city, against attacks by neighbouring Slavs. Later he was a patron of the Crusades, and to this day he is patron of Thessaloniki, where the enormous eponymous cathedral is home to his relics.

Name-days have always been more important in Greek traditional society than birthdays, and on name-days people who are celebrating the day and venerating their saint usually go to church and then hold open house, so that all their friends are free to drop in with presents and wishes of Chronia Polla: many happy returns of the day. I myself will be remembering and contacting my eldest son in faraway Melbourne on the 26th of the month.

Nature does what it always does, and the seasons turn implacably; traditions, while being assaulted by modern trends, as they have been for quite some time, are still holding fairly firm. But other events are not at all predictable, and Greece is currently mired in an economic malaise to which there seems little hope of an end. Village life continues to be fairly well protected against the harshness of reality, but city life is very different: in Athens and Thessaloniki in particular routine has disappeared, as strikes disrupt most attempts at what was once the usual daily round. Protests and street marches are increasingly common, and the Riot Squad is always on the move and on the alert for trouble. Violence is escalating, and so is the rate of crime. And in the background the great and not-so-good of Europe debate, manoeuvre and dictate.

Latest reports indicate that Greece has money enough to last until mid-November, after which time payment of salaries and pensions may be threatened. People still ask the question: What will people think? But more frequently in these troubled times they ask:

What is going to happen?

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018